Teaching Students About Carol Gilligan

Teaching ethics and moral development is an essential part of any educational curriculum. One of the most prominent theories in this field is Carol Gilligan’s “Ethics of Care.” This article will explore the importance of teaching students about Gilligan’s groundbreaking work in understanding moral development from a different perspective, particularly emphasizing the understudied experiences of women.

Background on Carol Gilligan

Carol Gilligan is an American feminist, ethicist, and psychologist who is best known for her work on women’s ethical development through her book “In a Different Voice.” She challenged prevalent theories at the time—like Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development—that mostly focused on male subjects. By introducing her own framework, Gilligan significantly contributed to our understanding of ethics from a previously underrepresented standpoint.

Incorporating Gilligan’s Ethics of Care into the Curriculum

1. Introduce the concept and its origins

Begin by providing students with an overview of Carol Gilligan and her work. Discuss how she challenged traditional theories of moral development that primarily focused on men, and introduce the Ethics of Care as part of the broader feminist ethics framework.

2. Explain the Ethics of Care

Delve deeper into the ideas presented in “In a Different Voice,” breaking down the main principles to help students grasp the concept. Highlight the significance of relationships, empathy, and care within this ethical framework, as opposed to abstract reasoning or universal principles.

3. Provide real-life examples

To better illustrate these principles in practice, use case studies or real-world scenarios that showcase different voices in ethical dilemmas. Encourage students to discuss these examples in small groups or partnerships to appreciate diverse perspectives.

4. Compare Gilligan’s theory with other theories

Compare and contrast Gilligan’s work with other moral development theories like Kohlberg’s stages and even ethical theories from philosophers like Immanuel Kant or John Stuart Mill. This enables students to understand how Gilligan’s Ethics of Care differs and why its introduction was so groundbreaking.

5. Engage in active discussions

Give students the opportunity to voice their opinions and experiences, allowing them to compare their insights with the theories presented. Use prompts or guiding questions to explore how gender, culture, and upbringing can shape ethical perspectives.

6. Encourage reflection and personal connection

Have students reflect on their own moral choices, values, and ethical development within the context of Gilligan’s theory. Writing essays or journal entries can be a beneficial exercise that allows students to apply these ideas to their own lives.


Teaching students about Carol Gilligan’s work is crucial to fostering a more comprehensive understanding of ethical development. By integrating her theories into classroom discussions and activities, students can learn how ethics extend beyond universal principles and that different voices must be acknowledged in our understanding of morality. In doing so, we create a more inclusive and empathetic educational environment for all learners.

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